declaration of inoepenbence
The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence
as Mentioned in Records of
MISS ADELAIDE L. FRIES.
KmvARDs A. KRoruHTON L'RiNTixt; COMPANY. RALEKJH, N. C.
m OF CALIFORNIA
THE MECKLENBURG DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE,
AS MENTIONED IN RECORDS OF WACHOVIA.*
In September, 1904, Mr. O. J. Lehman, of Bethania, N. C.,
discovered among the papers in the Moravian Archives at that
place an historical sketch bearing on its cover the title:
Aufsatz von den Vorkommenheiten
wahrend dem Revolutions-Kriege
welche einen Bezug
auf die Wachau
bis Ende 1779."
In this paper Mr. Lehman found a pointed reference to the
Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which he translated
and sent to the Charlotte Observer. The paragraph and its
translation are as follows: "Ich kan zu Ende des ijj^sten
Jahres nicht unangemerkt lassen, dass schon im Sommer sel-
bigen Jahres, das ist im May, Juny, oder July, die County Meck-
lenburg in Nord Carolina sich fur so frey u. independent von
England declarirte, u. solche Einrichtung zur Verwaltung der
Gesetze unter sich machte, als jamalen der Continental Congress
hernach ins Ganze gethan. Dieser Congress aber sahe dieses
Verfahren als zu friihzeitig an." The words in italics are writ-
ten in English script, the others in German. "I can not leave
unmentioned at the end of the 1 775th year, that already in the
summer of this year, that is in May, June or July, the County of
Mecklenburg in North Carolina declared itself free and inde-
pendent of England, and made such arrangements for the; ad-
ministration of the laws among themselves, as later the Conti-
nental Congress made for all. This Congress, however, con-
sidered these proceedings premature."
* Reprinted from The Wachovia Moravian of April. 1906.
The publishing of this paragraph in 1904, and the printing of
the fac-simile in December, 1905, accompanied by an article
from the pen of Mr. Alexander Graham, has brought forth a
number of letters inquiring as to the date and authorship of
the "Fragment," which unfortunately lacks both date and sig-
nature. These questions may be condensed into five, which
cover the whole ground:
1 i ) The authenticity of the Moravian Church Diaries is be-
yond question, but this paper, by its title, is not a part of the
Diary, but only a "Fragment" : can it be considered reliable ?
(2) Taken alone the paragraph reads like a kind of post-
script and was certainly written after 1775, since it refers to
later proceedings of Congress : is it a part of the original docu-
(3) Where was the paper written?
(4) Who wrote it?
( 5 ) When was it written ?
A considerable amount of time, care, and research have been
necessary before these questions could be satisfactorily an-
swered, but the following statements may now be made :
(/.) Can it be considered reliable? It was customary to keep
the daily Church Diaries as concisely as possible, and any event
which required more extended notice was written separately and
filed with the Diaries. Memoirs, accounts of special Church
services, historical sketches, etc., are classed together by Mora-
vian Archivists under the technical name of "Beilage," the term
employed by the earlier diarists, and this "Fragment" has its
counterpart in a number of such papers written at different
periods. Many of these "Beilage" are still between the pages
of the Diaries, others have been taken out from time to time
for reference, and when so removed the ascertaining of date and
authorship is difficult, as practically none are signed. This
arouses no surprise in the mind of any one who has worked
among the records, for it was not customary to sign anything,
even the carefully kept minutes of the various Boards give the
Facsimile of Reference to Mecklenburg Declaration.
name and signature of neither chairman nor secretary. Appa-
rently, to their minds, the subject of which they wrote was all-
important, their own connection with it entirely secondary, but
their painstaking accuracy is so marked that the careful stu-
dent gives them entire confidence even while regretting that
their custom did not conform to modern usage.
(2. ) Is it a part of the original document? The "Fragment"
is neither a diary, nor a mechanical compilation from a diary.
It is an historical sketch, well written, clear-cut, showing keen
insight into the affairs of the State and Nation, as well as the
most intimate acquaintance with events in Wachovia. While
for convenience the author divides his account into years, he
frequently runs forward to link some result to its cause. For
example, in reciting some of the events early in 1775, he states
that the sailors on the English merchant ships in Charleston
harbor, being unable to secure permission to land their cargoes,
simply threw them overboard, so that they could load with rice
and sail for home. Salt was one of the articles so destroyed,
and he comments on the great scarcity of this prime necessity
later on, and the suffering that the saving of this salt might have
averted. Paper money claims his attention in each year's his-
tory, but in speaking of the first issue without royal authority,
in 1775, he notes its utter loss of value late in the war; and
again, in 1777, he mentions the statement by the Assembly of
1783 that the depreciation began in '77. The introduction of
later developments into the Mecklenburg paragraph is, there-
fore, quite in keeping with the rest of the paper ; and its form
is also paralleled by similar additions at the close of other years,
where items which had been omitted in the current account
were added at the close. This paragraph is plainly a part of
the original document, and entitled to all the credence that may
be given to any part thereof.
(5.) Where was it written? Although found in Bethania, this
paper was most certainly written by a man who lived in Salem
during the Revolutionary War. Not only does the whole story
center about Salem, then already the principal town of Wacho-
via, but events transpiring there are given with a certain inti-
mate knowledge that can have no other explanation. The
paper must have been taken to Bethania at some later date, per-
haps in comparatively recent years.
(4.) Who wrote it? The handwriting of the "Fragment"
differs from that found in the Church Diaries of those years,
and certain features in the paper itself suggested Traugott
Bagge as its author. This was confirmed beyond a question
by finding in the Land Office in Salem several Annual State-
ments of the Store, written, dated and signed by Traugott
Bagge. The script, though small, is unusually firm and dis-
tinct, and it is possible to compare two specimens letter by
letter. When this test is applied to the "Fragment," with these
Annual Statements as the standard, the handwriting of the
"Fragment" is found to be Bagge's throughout. Moreover, in
the body of the "Fragment" there is given a list of the men who
signed a certain paper explaining the position of the Moravians
in regard to the war, and their neutrality, and in this list ap-
pears the name of Traugott Bagge. Laid by the side of the
signed Statements already alluded to, it becomes evident that
this name is a genuine signature, and by the fortunate insertion
of this list the signature of the author is contained in the body
of the paper, although it does not appear at the end.
This not only proves the author but guarantees the accuracy
of statements in the "Fragment," for Bagge was the most able
man of affairs in Wachovia during the War. At that time the
Store was the center of trade for all the country round, and
under Bagge's skillful management the necessaries of life were
never entirely lacking for those who depended on his Store to
supply them. His influence saved the town from financial ruin
in the flood of paper currency which swept over the land ; and
as he went to Charleston for supplies, to Hillsboro or Newbern
to appear before the Assembly, or to Old Richmond to the
County Courts, he was ever on the alert to watch the trend of
% // // ' v ^ Vx*
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MtwftrW 1 &*
Statement of Moravian position during the Revolutionary War.
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Facsimile of page showing Traugott Bagge's signature.
events, and it was doubtless from the information he gained,
and with the aid of his shrewd judgment that the ministers
charged with control of affairs in Wachovia were able to lead
their brethren safely through the very great perplexities and
dangers that surrounded them. As merchant, financier, poli-
tician, as a sturdy, conscientious man, Traugott Bagge ranks
among the first in the history of the State.
(5.) When was it written? The question of date presents
the most difficulty, but by a process of elimination it has become
possible to decide on the month and year in which it was writ-
ten, and the occasion for it. A busy, active man like Traugott
Bagge would not sit down and cover forty pages with close
German script, running forty-two lines to the page, simply for
amusement, and he did not live to an age when too abundant
leisure would be an incentive thereto. The latest date in the
"Fragment" is contained in the reference to the Assembly of
1783, already mentioned. This Assembly met in the Spring,
so the paper could not have been written before April, 1783.
In the Diary of 1783, the first pertinent entry is on April iQth,
when the Congregation is rejoiced to hear of the signing of
peace preliminaries on January 2Oth at Paris. On July 4th, in
response to a proclamation by the Governor of North Carolina,
Salem had a great Peace Jubilee. The program is given in full,
(see Cle well's History of Wachovia, p. 170), but no mention is
made of historical papers. Under date of October 8th, the
secretary of the Aeltesten Conferenz (the ruling board of Wa-
chovia at that time) makes this entry: "The memoranda con-
cerning the protection of God during the American War, which
have been collected by Br. Peter, will be gone through at a
special Conference meeting." On November 23d, the Congre-
gation heard of the signing of the Peace Treaty on Septernber
3d; and on December nth, in common with the Moravian Con-
gregations in Pennsylvania, and by order of Congress, they
celebrated a "Friedens Dankfest" by special prayer in the even-
ing service. On December 3Oth, the Aeltesten Conferenz fixed
the program for New Year's Eve; "The children shall have
their closing meeting at three o'clock; the adult Congregation
shall have a Lovefeast at eight in the evening, at ten o'clock
the Memorabilia for this year and for the War shall be read,
and the closing meeting shall follow at half past eleven." This
is confirmed by the Diary for December 3ist, which says of the
ten-o'clock service that they "remembered the many mercies
which the Lord had showed them not only during the year, but
throughout the eight years' War." It will be noted that Bagge's
name does not appear, and the War Memorabilia, under title
of "Lob und Dankopfer," read in the service and filed with the
Diary, is in the handwriting of John Frederick Peter, then
minister in Salem. But Peter did not come to Wachovia until
1780, would therefore have had no knowledge of events prior
to that time, and it seems evident that when he began to collect
the memoranda which he presented to the Aeltesten Conferenz
early in October, he turned to Bagge, who at his request wrote
the "Fragment" under discussion. This explains why Bagge
ended his account with December, 1779, for from then on
Peter knew all the circumstances as well as he, and the closing
then is otherwise inexplicable, for he stops just short of the
time when Wachovia came directly in contact with the opposing
forces, and passed the most perilous and most exciting days of
her history. The paper was far too long to read in a one-hour
service, but the "Lob und Dankopfer" is strikingly like a re-
sume of Bagge's sketch, and the supposition that it is such is
strengthened by the fact that in the Archives of Bethlehem, Pa.,
there are two copies of the "Lob und Dankopfer," one of which,
evidently the rough copy, is in Peter's handwriting, while addi-
tional notes pasted on the margin, and slipped loose between
the leaves, are in Bagge's handwriting. The other, incorporat-
ing many of these notes, is entirely in Peter's handwriting.
That Bagge, having helped Peter prepare his paper, should
later, without any apparent reason, take the trouble to amplify
the sketch to the limits of the "Fragment," seems most improb-
able, that he should in September have compiled his sketch,
and then later assisted Peter to make a proper resume of it, is
quite natural, and fully in accord with the prevailing interest
in the close of the war.
Traugott Bagge died in April, 1800, but a % close scrutiny of
the Diary from January, 1784, on fails to give a single reason
for the writing of such a paper. The Salem Congregation had
a service every evening in the week, and steadily observed an-
niversaries of various kinds, but Fourth of July and Third of
September pass year after year, with record of the topic of the
service, and no reference whatever to Declaration of Indepen-
dence, or signing of Peace Treaty, or events of the war.
Summing up the evidence, therefore, it may be definitely
stated that the "Fragment" containing the Mecklenburg refer-
ence belongs to the Salem "Beilage," and was written in Salem,
by Traugott Bagge, about September, 1783.
ADELAIDE L. FRIES.
Winston-Sal em, North Carolina,
"If the controversy over the Mecklenburg 'Declaration of Independ-
ence' is ever settled, it will have to be done by genuine contemporary
A. S. SALLEY, JR.,
Secretary of the Historical Commission of South Carolina.
The American Historical Review,
April, 1906, page 553.
"I have been much interested in the revival of the discussion concern-
ing the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and particularly
gratified that through your researches among the Archives of Wachovia
you have found records which substantiate the claims made for this
"I am thoroughly familiar with the records, particularly of the
Colonial and Revolutionary periods, of the Moravians in America, and
esteem them, local and general, of the highest historical value."
JOHN W. JOKDAN,
Librarian Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Letter of January 21, 1907.
"The discovery of the 'Bagge Manuscript' effectually sets at rest the
question of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, except per-
haps in the minds of those who are unwilling to consider the matter in
a fair and unbiased light.
"The Wachovia Archives are a series of records made contemporaneous
with the events themselves, and form an unbroken history of the leading
events of our section, and of the principal events of the State, and even
of the country at large, from 1753 to the present day. In no case has the
reliability of these archives ever been brought into question."
JOHN H. CLEWELL,
Archivist of Wachovia.
The Academy, Jan., 1907.
"I think you have worked out very carefully this piece of evidence;
and I congratulate you on your fair and truly scientific spirit of re-
J. S. BASSETT,
Trinity College, Durham, N. C.
Letter of May 8, 1906.
"1 wish to express my enthusiastic appreciation of the extremely in-
teresting piece of historical criticism that you have written. It is cer-
tainly most clear and convincing and seems to me to be the final word
with regard to the document under examination."
"Mr. Salley agrees with me that your conclusions are beyond criticism.''
WALDO G. LELAND,
DcfHir lineiit of Historical Research,
Carnegie Institution of Washington, D. C.
Letters of Mav !> and July 9. 190(i.
"Here seems to be a sound chain of reasoning to establish the authen-
ticity, authorship and date of the [Bagge] pamphlet. Once admitting
that it was written in 178.3, or thereabouts, it must be conceded that the
friends of the Mecklenburg Declaration have recovered a striking piece
of evidence in support of their case. * * * Historians can no longer
afford to treat the problem with the superstition of incredulity. They
have now to deal, not with nebulous theories nor with hypotheses sus-
tained by little more than the enthusiasm of local pride and patriotism ;
but with concrete data which must be accepted or explained away."
H. ADDINOTON BRUCE.
\orlli A iiH'i'ictin Rericir, July, 1900, p. 60.
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